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‘This is an emergency’: the volunteers bailing out migrants from detention

One woman’s story of helping a migrant by paying their bail has inspired others to offer bond money of their own

For more than a year, Julie Sharron went quietly crazy reading news stories about migrants detained at the border, herded into detention centers, separated from their children and demonized by Donald Trump and his supporters as “criminals” and “animals”. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, she was chilled by what she saw as inescapable historical parallels.

Like many of her liberal friends living on Los Angeles’ Eastside, she wrote outraged posts on social media, donated money and called her congressman. But it wasn’t enough.

Then she remembered the emergency savings she’d inherited from her grandparents who made a good life for themselves after enduring years in Nazi camps and coming to the United States. “If this isn’t an emergency, then I don’t know what is,” she later wrote. And she decided she’d use the money to bail out an asylum seeker.

“Is this a thing?” she asked her friend Casey Revkin, who runs a volunteer organization, Immigrant Families Together, dedicated to providing food, clothing, airline tickets and other necessities to migrants as they come out of detention. “I need to know I got one person out.”

Revkin hadn’t heard of any individuals bailing immigrants out, but she put Sharron in touch with the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, which represents migrant detainees pro bono. Within days, Sharron was handing over a cashier’s check at the Department of Homeland Security office in downtown Los Angeles to secure the release of a 28-year-old mother from Cuba who otherwise would have been stuck in Adelanto, a private detention center in the high Mojave desert notorious for its poor conditions.

Even more consequentially, Sharron wrote up her experiences in a Facebook post that went viral – within days, it was seen by 3,000 people – and inspired more than a dozen others to follow her lead and offer bond money of their own.

They include film and television actors, Ilyse Hogue, the women’s rights campaigner who is president of Naral Pro-Choice America, and many less prominent social activists who know Sharron from her work campaigning for better public schools, or from the comic book shop she runs in Silver Lake, or simply from her social media posts.

“I was so inspired by Julie – by the notion of helping out an individual or an individual family in need,” said Casey Wilson, a film actor and Saturday Night Live alum who had been raising money to send toys and art supplies to child migrants in detention but immediately recognized the power of Sharron’s idea and redirected some of the contributions accordingly.

As far as anyone can tell, bailing out a stranger in the immigration system was not a “thing” until Sharron shone a spotlight on it. Some organizations, like Raices in Texas, organize general bail funds, not one-on-one payouts. But the case for it has been building as the scale of the problem has grown, and the United States has come in for mounting criticism under international law, which says detaining immigrants should be a last resort, not standard operating procedure.

Twenty-three years after the Clinton administration systematized mandatory detention of migrants known or suspected to have a criminal history, more than 50,000 are now behind bars. The number has increased dramatically since Trump entered the Oval Office, as a growing number of ordinary asylum seekers and others crossing the border without papers have been thrown in along with those being assessed as possible threats to public safety.

Still, bailing out individuals seems likely to become more of a thing now, to the delight of overworked immigration lawyers who typically spend weeks or months trying to line up sponsors they hope can raise, scrimp or borrow thousands of dollars to get their clients out of custody.

“This is huge. It’s amazing. It changes everything,” said Mona Iman, an attorney with Immigrant Defenders. Iman couldn’t previously imagine how to raise the $7,500 demanded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) to bail out Carlos, an 18-year-old client who fled gang violence and an abusive household in Honduras only to spend 17 months in a variety of youth shelters and tough adult detention facilities. (At the request of Immigrant Defenders, the Guardian is withholding his last name.)

She was told that $7,500 was more than any nonprofit or family fundraising effort could come up with. Then she learned that four admirers of Sharron’s had agreed to pool the money, and one of them, a computer technician and occasional actor named Dean Jacobson, was willing to make the same trek to the DHS building in downtown Los Angeles and sit for hours in a crowded seventh-floor waiting room as the bureaucrats checked all their boxes. “As soon as I saw Julie’s post, I knew I needed to do something,” Jacobson explained.

At the beginning of this week, as Trump urged four congresswomen of color to “go back” to the countries they came from, Jacobson joined the security line outside the offices of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at 6.30am and reached the bail counter in room 7621 as it opened an hour later. Within 45 minutes all the seats in the office were full and a line of anxious friends and family members of detainees was snaking down the windowless corridor. Jacobson had spent little time in government offices and soon became exercised that DHS could not provide so much as a bench for the overflow.

An hour went by, then two, then three. The authorities in Adelanto needed to sign off on the bond, he was told, and it was not uncommon for them to take their sweet time. After six hours he was informed, abruptly, that the bond had been canceled. He was not given a coherent reason.

It was the moment when liberal idealism smacked into the wall of an immigration system that is often slow, inconsistent in its decision-making and lacking in transparency. “Supremely unjust” was how Iman described it.

After trying and failing to obtain an explanation for the canceled bond, Iman focused her energies instead on a hearing before Carlos’s immigration judge, who has a daunting track record of turning down more than 90% of asylum requests brought before her.

Still, Iman saw a glimmer of hope, because the judge had previously expressed some sympathy for Carlos, who arrived in the United States as a minor and was moved around so much – from state to state as well as from institution to institution – that for a long time he couldn’t work consistently with a lawyer to win release under a number of available programs designed to help children fleeing abuse or violence. On the day Carlos turned 18 in March, he was slapped in handcuffs and put in an adult detention center akin to high-security prison, even though he had no criminal record and Iman had arranged a release plan that should have precluded such a move. He was transferred twice more before landing in Adelanto.

The lawyer representing the government at the immigration hearing agreed in advance that Carlos deserved to be bailed out, for $3,000 instead of $7,500. Still, Iman was wary of her chances because the judge, Tara Naselow-Nahas, did not typically accept agreements made by lawyers appearing before her.

Jacobson turned up at the hearing, along with another donor to the bond fund, Carlos’s sponsor – a Salvadoran American who had herself fled violence to come to the United States 30 years ago – and other supporters. Carlos himself appeared by video link from Adelanto, wearing blue prison clothes.

Judge Naselow-Nahas soon agreed to set bail at $3,000, as the lawyers requested. She gave no hint that the decision was an unusual one for her.

As the hearing ended, Iman wiped away a tear. Nobody dared raise their voice until they were all in an elevator, out of earshot of any DHS official, and raised an enthusiastic cheer. Jacobson announced he was going to the bank right away to obtain a new, smaller cashier’s check and would be back at DHS first thing the next morning. (The second time was the charm, and Carlos was released on Thursday evening.)

The lesson, Sharron says, is that large numbers of people want to push back against what they see as horrifying policy decisions by the Trump administration but need guidance to point them in the right direction. “People in general want to do good,” she said, “but most of the time think nothing they can do can make a difference or they don’t know how to make a difference. Giving people a little knowledge and power changes everything.

“It’s a vocal minority making these negative policies. And it’s going to be everyday people that make things right again.”

Elizabeth Vitanza, a French teacher who was the other donor to Carlos’s bail fund at the hearing, concurred. “Money is a thing I have. Time is a thing I have. I just paired that with compassion and empathy for human beings,” she said. “Carlos could be my student. The fact that he ended up at Adelanto is insane to me.”

Carlos’s donor group quickly agreed that their unspent $4,500 should go toward bailing out another migrant, and Iman said she had a candidate in mind, another Cuban woman stuck in Adelanto who wanted to reach her relatives in Miami and be able to talk to her young children back in Cuba.

The group immediately responded: “Count us in.”

Fonte: theguardian

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